The HINDU Notes – 24th April 2019 - VISION

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 24th April 2019

πŸ“° India may stop oil imports from Iran

•Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Tuesday said the country plans to increase imports from major oil producing nations other than Iran, indicating that it will be acceding to the U.S. plan to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero, a move criticised by the Congress.

•The U.S. on Monday announced that it would be cancelling the waivers from sanctions it had granted eight countries, including India, allowing them to import oil from Iran. Following the revocation of this waiver, any country violating the ban would face U.S. sanctions.

Failure of Modi’s diplomacy, says Congress

•Mr. Pradhan said that the government has put in place a robust plan for adequate supply of crude oil to Indian refineries. “There will be additional supplies from other major oil producing countries. Indian refineries are fully prepared to meet the national demand for petrol, diesel & other petroleum products,” he tweeted.

•The Opposition, meanwhile, has criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not speaking up about the U.S. sanctions, questioning how another country can dictate where and how India secures its energy requirements.

•Terming it a “surgical strike” on India by the U.S., Congress leader and former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh on Tuesday said the American decision to impose sanctions on those who continue to buy oil from Iran after May 1 was “a failure of diplomacy of the Prime Minister.”

•Speaking at a press conference, he said the Congress demanded that Prime Minister Modi “break his silence” on the matter.

•Ratings agency ICRA has estimated that stopping oil imports from Iran could cost Indian refineries as much as ₹2,500 crore.

πŸ“° Panel of judges led by Justice S.A. Bobde to hear sexual harassment allegations against CJI Ranjan Gogoi

The other members of the committee are Justices N.V. Ramana and Indira Banerjee. Justice Ramana is the number three judge in the court.

•A three-member committee of Supreme Court judges led by Justice S.A. Bobde, the No. 2 judge in the apex court, was formed on April 23 to look into allegations of sexual harassment raised by a former employee against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.

•The other two members of the committee are Justice N.V. Ramana and Justice Indira Banerjee. Justice Ramana is the number three judge in the apex court.

•Justice Bobde has taken a central role in dealing with the crisis which erupted on April 20 when some websites published the woman’s allegations against the CJI.

•Justice Bobde on April 23 constituted a Special Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Rohinton Nariman and Deepak Gupta to deal with, on the judicial side, the suo motu petition titled ‘In a matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary’.

•The meeting on the formation of the committee went on till late evening on April 23. The morning saw an intense closed-door discussion till noon before beginning their usual court work. The discussion was centred on how to tackle the “wildfire” of accusations directed at the court, a highly placed source in the Supreme Court said.

•The source said it was decided that the immediate task was to contain the damage caused by the allegations to the judiciary and streamline the court. In the long run, the source said, the institution would, through a Full Court, evolve a mechanism to safeguard judges from external attacks as well as to fairly look into the veracity of such complaints and allegations against the judiciary.

•The woman’s allegations have rocked the legal community and has led the court to experience one of the most trying times in its long history. On January 12, 2018, the Supreme Court experienced turmoil when four senior most judges of the court, including the present CJI, held a press conference against what they termed as the selective allocation of sensitive cases to certain Benches by recent Chief Justices of India.

•Meanwhile, the Special Bench led by Justice Mishra decided to examine an affidavit filed a Supreme Court advocate, Utsav Singh Bains, with information that there was a larger conspiracy afoot to frame the CJI in a false case.

•Mr. Bains, in his affidavit filed on April 22, said he was approached by a man who identified himself to be a relative of the former apex court employee. This man, Mr. Bains, claimed had offered him up to ₹1.5 crore to file the false case. The person however had turned evasive when asked by Mr. Bains to be specific about his relationship with the woman. The lawyer said he had reliable information that a larger plot was up against the CJI in which “fixers” involved in a “cash-for-judgment racket” were involved.

•Since Mr. Bains was not present in the court room when the case was called, the Bench issued notice for his personal appearance on April 24 at 10.30 a.m.

•The affidavit filed by Mr. Bains has been made part of the suo motu case opened by the Supreme Court into the sexual harassment allegations. 

πŸ“° The permanence of Arab uprisings

As protests hit Sudan and Algeria, it’s anybody’s guess if they will go the Tunisia or the Egypt way

•Arab politics remains defiant. Eight years after protests swept through the Arab street toppling several dictators, anti-government demonstrations erupted in Sudan and Algeria (picture) in recent months. Earlier this month, both Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had ruled Algeria for 20 years, and Omar al-Bashir, who had been at the helm in Sudan for three decades, quit amid public anger, reviving memories of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings earlier. When protests broke out in Tunisia in late 2010 and spread to other countries, there were hopes that the Arab world was in for massive changes. The expectation was that in countries where people rose, such as Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, the old autocracies would be replaced with new democracies. But except Tunisia, the country-specific stories of the Arab uprising were tragic.

Arab Spring 2.0?

•These tragedies, however, did not kill the revolutionary spirit of the Arab youth, as the protests in Sudan and Algeria show. Rather, there’s continuity from Tunis to Khartoum and Algiers. The Arab uprising was originally triggered by a combination of factors. The economic model based on patronage was crumbling in these countries. The rulers had been in power for decades, and there was popular longing for freedom from their repressive regimes. More important, the protests were transnational in nature, though the targets of the revolutionaries were their respective national governments. The driving force behind the protests was a pan-Arabist anger against the old system. That’s why it spread like wildfire from Tunis to Cairo, Benghazi and Manama. They may have failed to reshape the Arab political order, but the embers of the uprisings appear to have survived the tragedy of ‘Arab Spring’.

•Most Arab economies are beset with economic woes. The rentier system Arab monarchs and dictators built is in a bad shape. Arab rulers for years bought loyalty of the masses in return for patronage, which was then buttressed by the fear factor. This model is no more viable. If Arab countries were shaken by the 2010-11 protests, they would be thrown into another crisis in 2014, with the fall in oil prices. Having touched $140 a barrel in 2008, the price of oil collapsed to $30 in 2016. This impacted both oil-producing and oil-importing countries. Producers, reeling under the price fall, had cut spending — both public spending and aid for other Arab countries. Non-oil-producing Arab economies such as Jordan and Egypt saw aid that they were dependent on drying up. In May 2018, there were massive protests in Jordan against a proposed tax law and rising fuel prices. Demonstrators left the streets only after Prime Minister Hani Mulki resigned, his successor withdrew the legislation and King Abdullah II made an intervention to freeze the price hike.

Regime changers

•In Sudan and Algeria, protesters have gone a step ahead, demanding regime change, like their comrades in Egypt and Tunisia did in late 2010 and early 2011. Algeria, whose economy is heavily dependent on the hydrocarbon sector, took a hit after the post-2014 commodity meltdown. While GDP growth slowed from 4% in 2014 to 1.6% in 2017, youth unemployment soared to 29%. This economic downturn was happening at a time when Mr. Bouteflika was missing from public engagement. A stroke had paralysed him in 2013. But when he announced candidacy for this year’s presidential election, seeking another five-year term, it infuriated the public. In a matter of days, protests spread across the country, which culminated in his resignation on April 2.

•Sudan’s case is not different. The northeast African country is also battling a serious economic crisis. Mr. Bashir and his military clique ruled the country through fear for three decades. But the split of South Sudan in 2011, with three-fourths of the undivided country’s oil reserves, broke the back of the junta. Post-2014, Sudan fell into a deeper crisis, often seeking aid from richer Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and even Qatar, the Saudi bloc’s regional rival. Inflation is at 73%. Sudan is also grappling with fuel and cash shortages. Discontent first boiled over in the northeastern city Atbara in mid-December over the rising price of bread, and the protests soon spread into a nationwide movement. Mr. Bashir tried everything he could to calm the streets — from declaring a state of emergency to sacking his entire cabinet — but protesters demanded nothing less than regime change. Finally the army stepped in, removing him from power on April 11.


•Like in the case of 2010-11, the 2018-19 protests are also transnational — they spread from Amman to Khartoum and Algiers in a matter of months. The pan-Arabist anger against national governments remains the main driving force behind the protests, which should set alarm bells ringing across Arab capitals. But in all these countries, the counter-revolutionary forces are so strong that protesters often stop short of achieving their main goal — a clear break with the past. They manage to get rid of the dictators, but the system those dictators built survives somehow, and sometimes in a moral brutal fashion. There are two main counter-revolutionary forces in these countries. The first are the main guardians of the old system, either the monarchy or the army. Tunisia is the only country where the revolutionaries outwitted the counter-revolutionaries. They overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s dictatorship, and the country transitioned to a multi-party democracy. In Egypt, the army made a comeback and further tightened its grip on the state and society through violence and repression. In Jordan, the monarch always acts as a bulwark against revolutionary tendencies.

•The second are geopolitical actors. In Libya, the foreign intervention removed Muammar Qaddafi, but the war destroyed the Libyan state and institutions, leaving the country in the hands of competing militias. Libya is yet to recover from the anarchy triggered by the intervention. In Syria, with foreign intervention, the protests first turned into an armed civil war and then the country itself became a theatre of wars for global players. In Yemen, protests turned into a sectarian civil conflict, with foreign powers taking different sides. In Bahrain, Saudi Arabia made a direct military intervention, on behalf of its rulers, to violently end the protests in Manama’s Pearl Square.

•The same could happen in Algeria and Sudan as well. In both countries, the army let the Presidents fall, but retained its grip on power, despite pressure from protesters. They don’t want regime change. They are dressing up the fall of the dictator as a revolution and selling it to the protesters, just as the Egyptian military did eight years ago. Sudan faces the heat of geopolitical intervention as well. As soon as the military council directly took power, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Egypt offered support to the military, at a time when protests continue in Khartoum demanding an immediate handover of power to a civilian government. The Saudis have also announced an aid package to the new junta, making it clear who they prefer.

•This is the challenge before the Arab protesters. They are angry. They want the system to be changed. But they are the multitudes. There’s no vanguard of the revolution. While they keep rising up against the system, they are constantly being pushed back by the counter-revolutionaries.

πŸ“° In an oil slick: On Iran sanctions

India is testing its traditional ties with Iran by giving in to U.S. bullying

•Faced with the U.S.’s intransigent demand that all countries put a full stop to oil imports from Iran or face sanctions, the Indian government has indicated it will ‘zero out’ oil imports after the May 2 deadline. Statements from the Petroleum and External Affairs Ministries suggest the government’s focus is now on finding alternative sources of energy, and minimising the impact on the Indian market. At last count, India was importing about 10% of its oil needs from Iran, although it had considerably reduced its intake over the last few months. The U.S. has made it clear that Indian companies that continue to import oil from Iran would face severe secondary sanctions, including being taken out of the SWIFT international banking system and a freeze on dollar transactions and U.S. assets. In response, Indian importers, including the oil PSUs, have decided that sourcing oil from Iran is unviable at present. As a result, the government is seeking to explain the decision as a pragmatic one, taken in India’s best interests. Officials point to the six-month reprieve, from November 2018 to May 2019, that they received from the U.S. in the form of sanctions waivers to import Iranian oil, and the exemption to continue developing the Chabahar port, as positive outcomes of the negotiations over the past year. Such arguments are, however, not very convincing. India has, in effect, now decided to cave in to U.S. pressure on the issue less than a year after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that India would recognise only UN sanctions, not “unilateral” ones. In fact, last February Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s presence in Delhi to increase India’s oil intake from Iran.

•There are other real costs attached to the U.S. ultimatum that India may have to bear. The price of oil has already shot up above the $70 mark in April. In addition, Iran has threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, a key channel for global oil shipments, which would further lead to inflationary trends, not just for oil but other commodities too. Any direct backlash from Iran for its decision will also jeopardise India’s other interests in the country, including its considerable investment in the Chabahar port, which India is building as an alternative route for trade to Central Asia. In the larger picture, India isn’t just testing its traditional ties with Iran, but also giving in to President Donald Trump’s blatant bullying after his administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. Instead of engaging in what appear to have been fruitless negotiations with the U.S. over the past year, India, China, the EU and other affected entities could have spent their time more productively in building a counter with an alternative financial architecture, immune to the U.S.’s arbitrary moves.

πŸ“° India’s perilous obsession with Pakistan

The hyper-nationalistic frenzy to ‘defeat’ Pakistan comes with huge human and material costs

•Come Indian elections, the bogey of Pakistan has overwhelmed the nationalist discourse in the shrillest manner, with the Prime Minister and other Ministers’ relentless branding of the Congress/Opposition as ‘anti-national’ and as ‘agents of Pakistan’. Further, the Prime Minister even made an unprecedented threat of using nuclear weapons against Pakistan.

•As a country born of the two-nation theory based on religion, and then having to suffer dismemberment and the consequent damage to the very same religious identity, it is obvious why Islamic Pakistan must have a hostile Other in the form of a ‘Hindu India’. But what is not obvious is why India, a (much larger) secular nation, must have a hostile antagonist in the form of Pakistan.

Self-defeating goal

•It is widely recognised that the fulcrum of the Pakistani state and establishment is an anti-India ideology and an obsession with India. But what has scarcely received notice is that India’s post-Independence nationalism has been equally driven by an obsession with Pakistan. Of course, this obsession acquires a pathological dimension under regimes, like the present one, which thrive on hyper-nationalism and a ‘Hindu India’ identity.

•But, this hyper-nationalistic urge to ‘defeat’ Pakistan and to gloat over every victory, both real and claimed, is ultimately self-defeating, and comes with huge human and material costs. Much of these costs are hidden by jingoism masquerading as nationalism.

•Words often used regarding the Pakistani state’s actions, even by critical Pakistani voices, are ‘delusional’ and ‘suicidal’, and rightly so. For, no level-headed state would seek to attain military parity with a country that is six and half times larger in population, and eight and a half times bigger economically. Hussain Haqqani, the Pakistani diplomat and scholar, compared it to “Belgium rivalling France or Germany”. Pakistan’s vastly disproportionate spending on the military has been self-destructive for a poor nation.

•In 1990, Pakistan was ahead of India by three places in the Human Development Index. In 2017, Pakistan was behind India by 20 ranks, a sad reflection of its ruinous policies.

•More critically, the Pakistani state’s sponsorship of Islamist terror groups has been nothing less than catastrophic. What the world, including India, does not recognise is that Pakistan, ironically, is also one of the worst victims of Islamist terrorism. In the period 2000-2019, 22,577 civilians and 7,080 security personnel were killed in terrorism-related violence in Pakistan (the number of civilian/security personnel deaths from Islamist terrorism in India, excluding Jammu and Kashmir, was 926 in during 2000-2018).

Muscular policy

•The fact that Pakistan has suffered much more than India in their mutual obsession cannot hide the equally serious losses that India has undergone and is willing to undergo in its supposedly muscular pursuit of a ‘no dialogue’ policy with Pakistan.

•Wars and military competition produce madness. Nothing exemplifies this more than India-Pakistan attempts to secure the Siachen Glacier, the inhospitable and highest battle terrain in the world. India alone lost nearly 800 soldiers (until 2016) to weather-related causes only. Besides, it spends around ₹6 crore every day in Siachen. Operation Parakram (2001-02), in which India mobilised for war with Pakistan, saw 798 soldier deaths and a cost of $3 billion. This is without fighting a war. Add to this the human and economic costs of fighting four wars.

•Granted, the proponents of India’s muscular nationalism who want only a military solution in Kashmir might close their eyes to the killings of some 50,000 Kashmiri civilians and the unending suffering of Kashmiris, but can they, as nationalists, ignore, the deaths of around 6,500 security personnel in Kashmir and the gargantuan and un-estimated costs of stationing nearly 5 lakh military/para-military/police personnel in Kashmir for 30 years?

•Ten years ago, Stephen P. Cohen, the prominent American scholar of South Asia, called the India-Pakistan relationship “toxic” and notably termed both, and not just Pakistan, as suffering from a “minority” or “small power” complex in which one is feeling constantly “threatened” and “encircled”. Tellingly, he argues that it is the disastrous conflict with Pakistan that has been one of the main reasons why India has been confined to South Asia, and prevented from becoming a global power.

•Here, one should ask the most pertinent question: why does India compete with Pakistan in every sphere, from military to sport, rather than with, say, China, which is comparable in size and population, and which in 1980 had the same GDP as India? (China’s GDP is almost five times that of India’s now.)

•Of course, emulating China need not mean emulating its internal authoritarianism or its almost colonial, external economic expansionism. On the contrary, it is to learn from China’s early success in universalising health care and education, providing basic income, and advancing human development, which as Amartya Sen has argued, is the basis of its economic miracle. It is precisely here that India has failed, and is continuing to fail.

•Therefore, despite India being one of the fastest growing major economies in the world since 1991 (yet, only ranked 147 in per capita income in 2017), its social indicators in many areas, including health, education, child and women welfare, are abysmal in comparison with China’s. Worryingly, in the focus on one-upmanship with Pakistan, India’s pace in social indicator improvement has been less than some poorer economies too. The phenomenal strides made by Bangladesh in the social sector are an example.

Skewed defence spends

•Here, a look at the military expenditures is revealing: while India spent $63.9 billion (2017) and Pakistan $9.6 billion (2018-19), Bangladesh spent only $3.45 billion (2018-19). Only a muscular and masculine nationalism can take pride in things such as becoming the fifth largest military spender in the world, or being the world’s second largest arms importer. The bitter truth hidden in these details is that India, ranked 130 in the HDI (and Pakistan, 150), simply cannot afford to spend scarce resources on nuclear arsenals, maintaining huge armies or developing space weapons. Besides, in an increasingly globalised world, military resolution between a nuclear India and Pakistan is almost impossible.

•The more India, the largest democracy in the world, defines itself as the Other of Pakistan, a nation practically governed by the military, the more it will become its mirror. Any nation that thrives by constructing a mythical external enemy must also construct mythical internal enemies. That is why the number of people labelled ‘anti-national’ is increasing in India. India has to rise to take its place in the world. That place is not being a global superpower, but being the greatest and most diverse democracy in the world. That can only happen if it can get rid of its obsession with Pakistan.

πŸ“° A natural next step

The deepening India-Australia security relationship must be seen against the backdrop of expanding bilateral ties

•This month was a historic moment in the India-Australia bilateral relationship. Under our joint naval exercise known as AUSINDEX, we saw the largest ever peacetime deployment of Australian defence assets and personnel to India.

•The third iteration of our bilateral naval exercise, AUSINDEX, which has just concluded (April 2-16), builds on a fourfold increase in our defence engagement — from 11 defence exercises, meetings and activities in 2014 to 38 in 2018. The Indian Navy’s Eastern Naval Command hosted an impressive array of high-end Australian military hardware, including the Royal Australian Navy’s flagship, HMAS Canberra and the submarine, HMAS Collins. The Canberra is the size of a small aircraft carrier. She can carry over 1,000 troops and 16 helicopters. These vessels were joined by frigates, aircraft and around 1,200 sailors, soldiers and airmen and women.

•As well as being Australia’s largest defence deployment to India, the exercise was the most complex ever carried out between our defence forces. For the first time, our navies undertook anti-submarine warfare exercises. And in a similar show of trust and cooperation, Indian and Australian maritime patrol P-8 aircraft flew coordinated missions over the Bay of Bengal.

Mark of greater alignment

•The strategic trust on display during AUSINDEX is representative of a deepening strategic alignment between our countries. When Australia’s Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, visited India earlier this year, in January, she emphasised our shared outlook as free, open and independent democracies, as champions of international law, as supporters of an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and as firm believers that ‘might is not right’. These shared values underline our deepening cooperation.

•A key element of Australia’s Indo-Pacific strategy is partnering with India in the vibrant Indian Ocean Region. India is a leader in this region and Australia is a natural partner for addressing shared challenges. We must continue to work together to combat transnational crime, terrorism, people smuggling, and illegal fishing, in order that we may all enjoy a peaceful and prosperous Indian Ocean Region.

•As the nation with one of the longest Indian Ocean coastlines and with more than half of our goods trade departing Indian Ocean ports, Australia is committed to addressing humanitarian and environmental challenges in our Indian Ocean neighbourhood.

•Australia is playing its part in the Indo-Pacific region through major new initiatives in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. We are undertaking a substantial step up in our support for Pacific Island countries. In November 2018 we announced the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific. This AU$2 billion initiative will boost Australia’s support for infrastructure development in Pacific countries.

•Our security relationships with Pacific Island countries have also been enhanced. We will establish a Pacific Fusion Centre to provide real-time surveillance data for countries across the region as well as enhancing policing and military training both bilaterally and through regional centres.

•We are also building on our significant diplomatic and economic relationships with Southeast Asia to build resilience and prosperity in our region. Our recently announced Southeast Asia Economic Governance and Infrastructure Initiative, worth AU$121 million, will help unlock Southeast Asia’s next wave of economic growth.

Growing links

•All this activity is happening against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding India-Australia relationship. Our people-to-people and economic links are on the rise. The Indian diaspora in Australia is both strong and growing. One in 50 Australians today was born in India; almost 90,000 Indian students studied in Australia last year; and over 350,000 tourists visited Australia from India in 2018. We are working together to see India become a top three trading partner for Australia by 2035.

•So, on the one hand, we should welcome the successful AUSINDEX exercise as a step up in our strategic partnership. At the same time, we should recognise it also as the natural next step in a friendship between Australia and India that is marked by growing trust, understanding and camaraderie. That is really something to celebrate.

πŸ“° ‘U.S. firm with India on Iran oil import curbs’

Sets deadline for escrow account use

•Negotiations between Indian and U.S. negotiators continued until mid-April, but the Trump administration made it clear that it would make no concessions on its demand that India “zero out” oil imports from Iran, to which India acceded, sources privy to the talks confirmed.

•On Tuesday, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells flew down to discuss regional issues with Indian officials, including the impact of the U.S. decision, as well as prepare for the visit by U.S. Special envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.

•In addition, the U.S. has also stipulated that India’s “escrow account” used for Rupee-Rial trade cannot be operated after its May 2 deadline. However, there is no change in the exemption given for India’s investments in Chabahar port as a trade route to Afghanistan.

•The ‘secondary sanctions’ that will go into place next week will see the U.S. placing strict financial curbs on any entities or companies violating the oil sanctions, including a ban on the use of the SWIFT banking international transaction system by the companies, seizure of any U.S. assets of those companies, and curtailing any other dollar transactions. Indian officials said that eventually, the cost of importing Iranian oil would be much higher than other sources of oil that it would be unviable.

•“It was a purely commercial decision, taken by the oil importers, including the PSU,” an official said, of the virtually foregone conclusion that India will “zero out” its oil intake from Iran.

•The U.S. also drew a direct link between the cooperation it is providing India in investigating the Pulwama terror attacks, shutting down terror havens in Pakistan, and designating Masood Azhar as a terrorist, at the U.N. Security council, and the cooperation it expects in dealing with Iran.

•As reported by The Hindu last week, U.S. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker, who visited Delhi in early April, had discussed steps on blacklisting Pakistan at the Financial Action Task Force at its plenary session in June, while also raising the need for India to cooperate on passing strictures against Iran, which the U.S. calls the world’s biggest terror sponsor. On April 8, the U.S. also designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organisation for its alleged role in funding the Hezbollah and Yemeni Houthi groups, further restricting any engagement with the Iranian government.

πŸ“° Olive Ridley hatchlings make their way into sea

Nature lovers join hands with forest personnel in releasing the tiny turtles

•Bringing down curtains to a sunny day, cool breezes hover over the pristine beach near Uppada Kothapalli from where Olive Ridley hatchlings began their new journey into the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday.

•One of the six in situ conservation centres for the endangered species arranged by the district forest officials abutting the shore turned into a hub of activity with a battery of officials and nature lovers turning up for the evening. Black in colour and a few inches of size, the lightweight hatchlings made their way into the gushing waters from the very moment of their release into the beach. Personnel from the Forest Department brought hundreds of little ones in special treys and handed them over to the officials for the ceremonial release. Having their origin at the Pacific and Indian oceans, the Olive Ridley turtles come to the shores of the Bay of Bengal only to lay their eggs between December and April every year. Though Gahirmatha in Odisha is the preferred location for their nestling, many turtles stop by in the intermediate beaches, lay their eggs and return to their source location.

•Each female dug a sandpit, lays 90 to 120 eggs and promptly closes the pit before leaving the shore. They never bothered about protecting the eggs from the predators such as dogs and jackals. Here comes the role of the Forest Department, which has been taking care of the conservation part.

Conservation locations

•“We have arranged six in situ conservation locations in the district, from where about 1.75 lakh hatchlings are expected to be released into the Bay of Bengal,” said Kartikeya Misra, District Collector. Along with DFO Anant Shankar and Commissioner of Rajamahendravaram Municipal Corporation Sumit Kumar Gandhi, he released the hatchlings into the sea.

•“The Olive Ridley turtles come here by Christmas every year. Owing to the cyclone Phethai, there has been a three-week delay this year and the nestling began only after the Pongal,” said Mr. Anant Shankar, while observing that the releases would be continued in the month of May too.

•“We have deployed well- trained personnel to all the six locations and arranged 24X7 security, so as to protect the nestlings. Last year we have released about 1.5 lakh hatchlings and there is a possible increase in the number this year,” he said. Nature lovers joined hands with the forest personnel in releasing the hatchlings into the beach and captured images and videos of the tiny ones leaving for their oceans.

πŸ“° ‘Price controls hurting FDI in medical devices sector’

Industry sources blame drastic fall in FDI to $66 million on govt. curbs

•Blanket implementation of price controls has contributed to a drastic fall in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the medical device sector, say industry insiders, pointing to a reduction from $439 million in 2016 to $66 million in 2018.

•“Data released by the Government Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade clearly show this decline which has happened even though FDI is allowed through automatic route,” said Mr. Pavan Choudary, heading the Medical Technology Association of India (MTaI). The Association represents leading global medical technology companies with a substantial footprint in India.

•“We posit that this decline was the unintended consequence of the well meaning intention but the anomaly needs to be corrected,” Mr Choudary said.

Not specific to industry

•Countering the argument, Pritam Datta, Fellow, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), and author of “Medical Devices Manufactering Industry-estimation of market size and import dependence in India”, said, “We are talking about a country which imports 70 % of its medical devices and it is only now that we have started manufacturing high-end medical devices. While there has been a fall in this sector, it cannot be attributed only to the price control in India. We have always seen that around the election year there is a fall in FDI in all sectors. This is also a growing sector.”

•Sectors in India which attract the highest FDI according to government figures include services sector, computer software and hardware and telecommunication.

•Meanwhile, in 2015 the Centre approved 100% FDI in the medical devices sector via automatic route. Previously medical devices, which came under the pharma sector, could take in 100% FDI through automatic route only in case of new ventures. Further approval of Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) was needed in case of acquisition of existing companies.

•The break-through came after the industry urged approval for FDI through automatic route, pointing out that there were no big firms for medical devices in India, and hence no threat of merger or acquisition.

•“When in 2015 the government allowed 100% FDI through automatic route in India it took the annual FDI inflow in medical devices that year from an average of $62.5 million to $161 million. Further in the next year, 2016, the first full year of this change, the FDI rose to $439 million. The FDI seemed set for a similar climb in future and establish India as an attractive destination for investments in medical device manufacturing,” a statement from the MTal said in response to questions from The Hindu.

•The FDI fell first to $184 million in 2017 and then to $66 million in 2018.

Tech intensive

•The medical device industry is highly technology and capital dependent and experts say it is vital “that the global community be kept engaged for this wealth and technology inflow as well as to help co-create an ecosystem for manufacturing of medical devices in India.”

•The group has now demanded that India should work towards “resuming collaboration with the capital, technology and export markets of the world.”

πŸ“° The problem with cherry-picking data

If it’s the government’s case that NSSO figures are suspect, what has it based policy decisions on?

•Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said last week, “we definitely have a data crisis,” and blamed academics for creating a “false narrative”. Yet, at the heart of the data crisis in India is the Central government, which has been holding back important data. Most recently, it did not announce the data on employment created by the ‘Mudra’ scheme. Earlier, the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data on employment were withheld. Data on farm suicides have not been available since 2016. Data are being withheld precisely where experts have flagged problems, such as on employment, farmers’ crisis and economic growth.

Clashing with reality

•The NSSO data (which have not been released officially) undermine the National Democratic Alliance government’s claims on job creation. In fact, they showed massive unemployment. Demonetisation and the implementation of the goods and services tax, both of which undermined the unorganised sector which employs 94% of the workforce, have impacted employment. Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) and others have confirmed the loss of jobs. The NSSO and CMIE data are based on household surveys which capture any additional employment created by Mudra loans, tax aggregators, e-commerce, etc. Basically, jobs are being lost so that the net effect is a decline in employment.

•The government had promised doubling of farm incomes by 2022. But, farmers’ incomes have come under pressure due to falling farm produce prices and rising input costs. This got aggravated by demonetisation, with cash shortages in rural areas compelling farmers to sell at lower prices to the traders to get cash. Data on farmer suicides have not been released on schedule even though the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) collects them annually.

•The government has implicitly admitted that there is a crisis in the farming and unorganised sectors, and due to that in employment generation. That is why it announced an annual ₹6,000 support to farmers owning up to five acres of land and promised insurance to workers in the unorganised sector. It has also increased allocations for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) from ₹55,000 crore to ₹60,000 crore. This allocation is inadequate, but it does indicate that the government is forced to acknowledge the crisis facing the poor.

•To counter the argument of a crisis facing large segments of the population, the government first tried to discredit alternative arguments and then changed its stance to say that data on the unorganised sector employment were bad. In the process, it discredited its own agency’s data.

•But the data on employment put out by NSSO have been used for long. Was that all incorrect also? If so, policy formulation based on that faulty (or non-existent) data was also incorrect. It would render suspect not only the policies of past governments, but even this government’s.

•Most critically, if data on unorganised sector employment are not reliable or are non-existent, then GDP data are also not credible. After all, such data must factor in the contribution of the unorganised sector. The implication is that the government is only estimating growth on the basis of the organised sector of the economy, a point repeatedly made by this writer in the last two years.

•In brief, the government has tied itself up in knots by saying that no one has credible employment data. So, GDP data also become suspect and so does the claim of 7% rate of growth. If the GDP calculation is inaccurate, can the budget figures based on this data be relied upon? Using the organised sector growth to represent the unorganised sector growth is somewhat acceptable only if the two components are moving in the same direction. But that has not been true post-demonetisation, which decimated the unorganised sector. So, the official figures represent only the organised sector. If the alternative data on unorganised sector growth are included, then the rate of growth would turn out to be less than 1%. This would be consistent with the crisis of the unorganised sector, agriculture and employment. A 7% growth rate of the economy is not consistent with this crisis.

•The situation becomes even worse when quarterly GDP growth figures are relied on. They are based only on the corporate sector data and not even the organised sector. Thus, they are even less representative of growth of the economy.

•The government cites World Bank and International Monetary Fund figures in support of its contention of 7% growth. But these agencies do not collect independent data and only reiterate the official data. So, their figures are not independent endorsements of government data.

•To be fair, all governments in the past have manipulated data. The budgetary figures — fiscal deficit, expenditures and revenues — are fudged. Critics point to creative accounting in the budget every year. Data on education and health are also manipulated to show better performance. Whenever the GDP base change has been announced, experts have pointed to flaws. Inflation measured by the wholesale price index has been criticised as not representing the services sector, hence understating inflation.

Risk of arbitrariness

•What is new is the complete denial of data collected by official agencies. If the government wishes to revamp data collection, it cannot be done arbitrarily. Expert committees must be appointed to work on the modification of methodology and the database. Even this would not account for the substantial black economy.

•In brief, the present government is denying the data of its own agencies or modifying data arbitrarily. This is opening the doors for future governments to do the same. Tomorrow when the inflation rate rises, a government can claim that data on prices are faulty. If so, the bottom falls out of the calculation of dearness allowance to the organised sector and the budget formulation gets impacted. Further, the calculations of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) also go wrong since it is supposed to target inflation. If both the data on growth and prices are denied, what would the RBI target? No one says that data cannot be improved but denying the existing official data only creates problems for policy and its credibility.

πŸ“° Outer space lessons

In furthering its outer space ambitions, India must study the experiences of other space powers

•As scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) work toward ‘Mission Gaganyaan’, to send three Indian astronauts into space, one can’t but make comparisons with the U.S.’s lunar mission in the 1960s. At the time, U.S. President John F. Kennedy made a public statement about his administration’s determination to place an American on the moon by the end of that decade. His speech was against the backdrop of the Soviet Union’s progress as the foremost power in space, and after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s feat of becoming the first human being in space (April 1961).

•The U.S.’s objective, therefore, was to have a definite public-relations edge over the U.S.S.R. in the space race, which was marked then by intense rivalry between two Cold War powers. A breakthrough in space was thus a matter of prestige. In the context of ISRO’s plan, the prestige value of ‘Mission Gaganyaan’ is sky-high, possibly in the same league as the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Apollo Mission to the moon.

•A key lesson for India from NASA’s lunar mission is that a programme of that scale and magnitude often comes at a steep cost, monetary and non-monetary. More than the monetary loss, it is the non-monetary loss that matters more, as it can lend currency to the idea that such a failure indicates a waste of time and resources. A failed mission deeply hurts the image of the country in the eyes of the outside world. It raises doubts about the capability of the nation-state in question. No nation-state ever wants to such face such a dilemma. This is because such a development would play to the advantage of adversaries, politically and diplomatically. Politically, a failed mission of such magnitude could give voices in the opposition an opportunity to level criticism, perhaps weakening the incumbent domestically. The diplomatic costs arise from the fact that losses in space missions can seriously impact the future of cooperation between space powers.

•For instance, during the Cold War, both the U.S. and the then U.S.S.R. exaggerated each other’s failures in space missions considerably in order to influence the overall mood among and inclinations of other nations in their favour. This was most easily achieved by making the rival look as weak as possible. Historically, the media played an active role in participating in such an agenda-driven propaganda.

•Outer space is often referred to as the ‘final frontier’ by major world powers, with the prize for conquering it being even more greatness on the world stage. While India’s credentials were bolstered after the successful anti-satellite mission recently, significant success in ‘Mission Gaganyaan’ might provide India with that stamp of authority in outer space that it so keenly desires. For that to happen, the lessons from the experiences of other space powers must be heeded.

πŸ“° India may send NIA team to assist in probe

•The government may send a team of the National Investigation Agency to Sri Lanka in the aftermath of bomb blasts that claimed more than 300 lives.

•An NIA official on Tuesday said a decision on the issue was yet to be taken. Some government officials are also likely to visit Sri Lanka to meet their counterparts.

•Given that earlier this month India had shared intelligence inputs on possible terror strikes at different locations, including the Indian High Commission building there, a government source said the agencies would be extending all possible cooperation to the Sri Lankan authorities on unearthing the conspiracy. Security arrangements at the High Commission are also being reviewed.

•“We keep working in close coordination with the investigating agencies in other countries on various issues, particularly terror-related cases. In November 2014, after the Burdwan blast, a four-member team of the NIA had visited Bangladesh to share information on the suspects,” said a retired IPS official.

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